Hornets are tiny insects that belong to the category of wasps. As they are eusocial in nature, they build communal nests and guard them aggressively against predators. For this aggressive nature, hornets are also called pests. The defense mechanism that hornets use to protect their nests is their venomous stings. They also use their sting to catch their prey in the wilderness. Hornets are also quite infamous for stinging humans when they feel threatened by them. You may think how much could the sting of a tiny creature like a hornet could hurt. Well, honestly, it can hurt a lot. A single hornet sting is enough to leave you writhing in pain for days. But there are a number of ways to treat a hornet sting. Find out how, here!
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Hornets and Their Notable Varieties
Hornets are a distinct subset of wasps belonging to the Vespa genus. Their colonial structure is such that only the queen hornet needs ovipositors. So the stingers found in “worker” hornets are actually ovipositors that have evolved into stingers over time. That is why male wasps do not have any stingers at all.
What sets hornets apart from other wasps is their large size and larger nests than that of other wasps. Moreover, a hornet sting is much more painful than that of any other wasp and could even be life-threatening. It’s because of the high amount of acetylcholine (5%) in the venom of a hornet, in comparison to other wasps.
There are over 20 different kinds of hornets. They differ in their appearance, the geographical areas where they are found and the amount of venom in their sting. Some of the most commonly found varieties of hornets are the Bald Faced Hornets, European Hornets and Oriental Hornets. There are also the Cicada Killers or giant ground hornets.
Interestingly, Bald Faced Hornets are actually wasps, relatives of the yellow-jacket wasps. But they are termed as hornets because they are large and make aerial nests, just the way hornets do. Another example is of the Australian hornet, which is actually not a hornet but a species of potter wasp.
Another notable variety of hornets is the Asian Giant Hornet whose sting is said to be the most poisonous among all other hornets. It is most commonly found in the island country of Japan. It is the cause of 30-50 casualties in humans every year in Japan. But it is also found in India, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka and certain other Asian countries.
Therefore, you can say that all hornets are wasps, but all wasps are not hornets.
Difference between the Sting of Hornets and that of Honey Bees
Hornets are often confused with honey bees. On the contrary, they are both quite different from each other in many ways. Rather, ironically, hornets are somewhat natural enemies of honey bees. A small group of hornets can destroy an entire colony of honey bees within a matter of hours. One giant hornet can kill about 40 bees in a minute!
The stinging capacity of hornets is also much higher from that of honey bees. Honey bees have the disadvantage that they can only sting their enemy once. After which, they tragically die. This happens because the barbed stinger of a honey bee does not have the capability to disengage after stinging. As it pulls away from its victim, its stinger which is attached to its venom gland, which further is attached to its digestive system, rips out. This causes the death of the honey bees after a single sting attack itself.
On the other hand, hornets do not have a barbed stinger. Rather, they have a smooth stinger which makes it easier for them to disengage easily after every sting. The stinger can enter and exit the flesh of the victim with utmost convenience. This makes it easy for them to unleash true horror on their victim and deliver multiple stings in quick succession. Hence, they are way more dangerous than a regular honey bee.
Symptoms to Look out for when Stung by a Hornet
The venom contained in the sting of a wasp, including hornets, induces a toxic reaction at the site of attack. It generally either causes a normal reaction or a localized reaction. Very rarely does it cause an allergic reaction. If you have been stung by a hornet, the symptoms you should look out for are pain, redness, itching and swelling. You will probably develop a raised welt in the surrounding area of a sting with a tiny white mark in the middle. This white mark is where the hornet stung you.
These are the symptoms of a general reaction. But these symptoms are restricted to the site of the sting. These symptoms generally last only for a couple of days. Although the pain of a hornet sting is way more excruciating than that of any other kind of wasp or honey bees.
Sometimes a hornet sting could take the shape of a localized reaction. This happens when the redness and swelling spreads beyond the site of the sting. It could extend to about 4 cm around the main site where you were stung, over a couple of days. These symptoms last longer than a general reaction but even then they should get better in a span of 5-10 days.
Although highly uncommon, but you may show a delayed reaction after getting stung by a hornet. In case of a delayed reaction, the symptoms will occur days or even weeks later. The symptoms may even differ from person to person. But they may include inflammation of the brain, nerves, blood vessels, kidneys and may also cause clotting of blood in some cases.
How to Know if you are Allergic to Wasp Venom
An allergic reaction to hornet sting is known as anaphylactic reaction or anaphylaxis. If you are allergic to hornet sting, your symptoms are going to be way more severe than a normal reaction. You may develop severe swelling of the face, lips or throat. You may feel difficulty in breathing accompanied by a feeling of restlessness and anxiety. Hives may appear on your skin, which are red and itchy, and they may spread beyond the sting site. You may even find it hard to swallow food. In addition to these symptoms, your blood pressure might drop. You may feel dizzy and your pulse might go for a run.
If you face these symptoms right after a wasp sting, you must immediately seek medical help. If left untreated, a severe allergic reaction to hornet sting could lead to shock and loss of consciousness, all in less than 10 minutes. In the most drastic scenario, it could even lead to death.
How to Treat a Hornet Sting
A normal or localized reaction to a hornet sting is treated differently from an allergic reaction. You must clean the wound with soap and water to wash off any venom still present at the site of the sting. Thereafter, you can apply a cold compress on it, such as ice cubes wrapped in a towel. You can follow this by applying an ointment or taking an oral tablet containing antihistamine like Benadryl. You can supplement it with acetaminophen like Tylenol. While the antihistamine will give you relief from the itching and burning sensation, acetaminophen will help you with the pain. These are over the counter drugs you may buy without a prescription.
An allergic reaction to hornet sting is treated with an epinephrine (adrenaline) injection. Some of the most commonly available epinephrine injections are Adrenaclick, Symiepi, and Auvi-Q. This injection is effective in stopping the allergic reaction from developing further. You can either inject it to yourself with an auto-injector or go to the nearest hospital to get yourself injected. Even if you self-inject the epinephrine, one dose might not be enough. Moreover, you might also require intravenous fluids, oxygen and some other treatments. Therefore, you should still make a prompt visit to the hospital.
How people react to a sting
Most people, who know that they are allergic to hornet venom, or wasp poison altogether, carry epinephrine injection with them. Especially if you live in an area that has an infestation of hornets, you must be extra cautious. They are a number of epinephrine stinger kits available in medical stores such as EpiPen and Ana-Kit. Although you need to produce a doctor’s prescription to buy them. But even after you use them, if unfortunately, the need arise, you must still seek medical intervention.
If you have had an allergic reaction to hornet sting in the past, you must consider undergoing a desensitization program. It involves going through allergen immunotherapy over a number of years. You will be given allergy shots of small doses of the venom over a period of many years, gradually increasing the dose. This will stimulate your immune system to become resistant to a future allergic reaction in case you ever get stung again by a hornet.
Home Remedies to Treat a Hornet Sting
Find out what are some of the home remedies for hornet sting:
The best home remedy to treat a hornet sting is application of ice on it. Ice cubes are always available in the refrigerator, especially in summers. Summer is also the time when cases of hornet attacks happen much more frequently. So just wrap some ice cubes in a cotton cloth or hand towel, and apply it gently on the sting site.
Neutralize it with Vinegar
As wasp stings are alkaline in nature, you can apply some vinegar on it. The acidity of the vinegar will neutralize the alkalinity of the venom in the hornet sting. You can dab a cotton ball with vinegar and apply it on the stung area. Or, you can soak a bandage in vinegar and keep it applied on the sting site. Although you might have to change the bandage every few hours as it dries quickly.
Application of ice is the preferable home remedy for a hornet sting. But you can even apply toothpaste on the wound area to get relief from the symptoms of a natural reaction.
Things to Remember when Stung by a Hornet
Immediately Move Away from the Site of Attack
If you have been attacked by a bike of hornets, immediately move away from that place. As even after the first sting, the stinger of a hornet remains attached and it could attack again.
Do not panic
A single incident of hornet sting might occur and all hell breaks loose. Children start to panic more than adults when stung by a hornet. But whether you have been stung or your kid, keep calm. Thereafter, you must move indoors to a safe place and immediately look for symptoms of a reaction.
Elevate the Affected Body Part
Hornet sting causes swelling immediately. But elevating the affected body part will cause lesser swelling. Also, remove the clothing from the site of the sting. It might be hard to do so later if it swells to a great degree.
Keep the Wound Clean
You must clean, disinfect and medicate the wound regularly in order to avoid the risk of the wound getting infected. If you fail to keep the sting site clean at all times, it might get scratchy. This could allow bacterial growth in the wound, causing secondary bacterial infections to occur.
Hornets are infamous for destroying honey bee colonies and other beneficial insects. But they do not pose any great risk to humans, unless they feel threatened. Even so, hornet stings are quite common and are generally not very dangerous. You can easily treat them at home with ice and antihistamine unless you are allergic to wasp venom. The likelihood of being allergic to wasp venom is quite less but it is still possible. In that case, you must always keep a syringe loaded with epinephrine with you for any emergency. Even after self-injecting, you must immediately go to the hospital for medical attention.